US says Iran behind attacks on Saudi oil facilities

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for drone attacks on two major Saudi oil facilities which occurred shortly before dawn on Saturday.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for drone attacks on two major Saudi oil facilities which occurred shortly before dawn on Saturday.

The attacks caused Saudi Arabia to shut down half its oil production, and the consequences for the international oil market remain unclear, as that will depend on the extent of the damage and how quickly it can be repaired.

The attacks are without precedent in Yemen’s five-year long civil war, in which Saudi Arabia has backed the internationally recognized government and Iran has supported the Houthi rebels.

The drones targeted two critical oil infrastructure sites in eastern Saudi Arabia: Abqaiq, the world’s largest oil processing facility, and Khurais, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest oil field.

A uniformed Houthi spokesman asserted in a televised statement that the rebels were behind the attacks, which he described as a legitimate response to the Saudi bombing of Yemen, while threatening more such assaults on Saudi targets.

Pompeo disputed that claim, however, as he attributed responsibility to Tehran.

“Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo wrote in a tweet. “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

The drones may “have been launched in another country, such as Iraq, or from inside Saudi Arabia itself,” The New York Times suggested.

Indeed, Abqaiq and Khurais lie some 500 miles from the Yemeni border, and no previous Houthi drone attack has struck that far from Yemen.

A retired US intelligence official, who keeps in close touch with former colleagues in the US and elsewhere, told Kurdistan 24 that the Saudis managed to take possession of at least one drone that failed to explode. The drones, he said, were supplied by Iran, but manufactured in Russia.

They used Russia’s satellite navigation system, GLONASS, which serves the same function as the American GPS, he explained, while instruction panels for the drones were in Russian, as well as Farsi.

US President Donald Trump spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday and offered “his support for Saudi Arabia’s self-defense,” according to a White House readout of their phone conversation.

“The United States Government is monitoring the situation,” Trump told Salman, “and remains committed to ensuring global oil markets are stable and well supplied.”

Until recently, there had been speculation that Trump might meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the opening of the UN General Assembly later this month. 

Read More: Trump and Rouhani likely to meet at UN: Report 

Indeed, according to an NBC News report on Saturday, it was precisely that issue, which precipitated Amb. John Bolton’s sudden departure as National Security Adviser earlier this week. Trump wanted to ease sanctions on Iran as an inducement to start negotiations, and Bolton strongly opposed the idea. 

Read More: John Bolton leaves NSC, amid dispute with Trump 

However, the attack on Saudi oil facilities, has, almost certainly, scuttled prospects for such a meeting. Indeed, in a second tweet, Pompeo affirmed, “Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy.”

Paul Davis, a former Pentagon analyst and now an instructor at The Institute of World Politics, suggested to Kurdistan 24 that the prospect of the meeting may help explain the timing of the attack, as Iranian hard-liners sought to ensure it did not happen.

The Saudis use the US Patriot air defense system to protect their air space. It works against missiles—a technology that dates back to World War II. But it was not designed to defend against drones, which have only begun to be used as weapons of war in the last two decades.

In May and June, as tensions rose between the US and Iran, the Houthis increased their missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia. The Patriot performed well against the missiles fired by the Houthis, but not against the drones.

As a Saudi official told The Wall Street Journal then, “Recent events show that we are exposed in terms of our defense.” Saturday’s attack has made that clear.